This is divided into two parts. Part 1 covers links from a mainstream, non-US based, News Media source to help provide confirmation for people who just can't believe what they are reading/hearing. Part 2 are articles from Salon as they seem to be the only source of deep investigation into Mormonism that I can find.
Mormonism is relevant because Mitt Romney is a high priest of some sort in the Mormon Church that involves being a Prophet of the Last Tribe of Israel (which they are allowed to pretty much make up as they go along as 'an elder knows best')... then we have a serious problem in misinformation and a possible future tragedy on our hands (a man believing in magic underwear in charge of the Presidency? That's insane). Would you elect him to run for President? If so, what doe that say about your vetting & critical thinking skills?
Part 1: From The BBC
Part 2: From Salon
Mitt Romney has been pandering to evangelical voters for months. Will he now connect these issues to his own faith?At first blush, Mitt Romney’s reluctance to talk about his faith might seem like a positive development to any supporter of secularism in presidential politics. But he’s only tight-lipped about his Mormonism, not about religious right causes, which he is more than happy to take up. Even when the teachings of his own faith intersect, quite neatly on matters of sex and gender in particular, with the theo-politics of the Republican Party, he’s more likely to defend the Catholic Church than his own. If the past is any guide, at his upcoming commencement address at Liberty University, he’s more likely to invoke the religious right’s “Christian nation” mythology than to talk about Mormon values.
Channeling the worst of Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum, Romney has accused President Obama of trying to impose the “religion of secularism.” He has signed the pledge of the anti-gay group the National Organization for Marriage and accepted its endorsement, along with endorsements from antiabortion groups. He has stumped for the position of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops framing insurance coverage for contraception as a “war on religion.” At the same NRA convention at which Ted Nugent reveled in violence against Obama and Democrats generally, Romney called contraception coverage under the Affordable Care Act a “threat and insult to every religious group.”
This transparent pandering is clearly aimed at the conservative evangelicals and Catholics he needs to energize in November, whose approval — and enthusiasm — is essential for a Republican presidential candidate to win. While Romney obviously doesn’t need to do much pandering to win over conservative Mormons, voters surely wonder: Once he brings up religion, where does his Mormonism fit?
Yet in the latest Mormon dust-up this week, the Washington Post’s conservative blogger Jennifer Rubin accused BuzzFeed’s McKay Coppins (who is Mormon) of anti-Mormonism after he wrote a piece, “Why Ann Stayed Home.” Coppins’ explanation of Mormon history and doctrine (and Mormon feminist objections to it) provoked Rubin, a Romney defender, to fret that it “foreshadows, I fear, of what is to come — effort to portray Mormons as weirdly out of step and unmodern, and by implication, Romney as being unfit for the presidency.”
Oh, but why single out Romney, or Mormonism, for being “weirdly out of step and unmodern”? It’s almost as if Rubin is unaware of what the Republican Party is.
The Daily Caller’s Matt Lewis came to Coppins’ defense, and even expressed admiration for Mormon ideals of motherhood. “I found the piece to be a positive portrayal of Mormon theology, motherhood and Ann Romney,” Lewis wrote.
That “positive” portrayal included a discussion of the late LDS prophet Ezra Taft Benson’s 1987 lecture on the role of women as mothers. In that “Fireside for Parents,” Benson echoed the teaching of former president Spencer W. Kimball, another LDS prophet, “whose counsel,” Benson said, “has gone unheeded, and families have suffered because of it.”
That counsel, of course, is that mothers should stay home. “The Lord has so stated,” Kimball wrote, that women “are to take care of the family,” and “be an assistant to the husband” but “not to earn the living, except in unusual circumstances.”
Kimball wrote those words in 1977, the same year in which the Church, in opposing the Equal Rights Amendment, worried that it would “stifle many God-given feminine instincts.”
“Too many women,” Kimball scolded, “spend their time in socializing, in politicking, in public services when they should be home to teach and train and receive and love their children into security.”
Kimball, Benson declared 10 years later, “spoke the truth. His words are prophetic.”
Tresa Edmunds, a co-founder of the feminist group LDS Wave and a blogger at Feminist Mormon Housewives, told me this week that in Mormonism, motherhood plays a divine role in nurturing souls for eternity. “Over the years, Mormon women have felt — I would personally say a backlash is too strong a word, I would say, some friction, about their role in motherhood.” For Mormon women who work, she said, there is still “static” and “stigma” over it.
Given that so much of Mormon teaching on marriage and family — the core of the religious right’s incursion into politics — is in line with Republican orthodoxy, one would think that Romney would jump at the chance to demonstrate a Mormon-evangelical-Catholic alliance.
As Kathryn Joyce, author of the book “Quiverfull: Inside the Christian Patriarchy Movement,” which details the anti-contraception, uber-mothering movement within evangelicalism, has reported, such an alliance already exists. Religious right doyen Francis Schaeffer, an important driver of the antiabortion movement, advocated for ecumenical “co-belligerency” decades ago, and anti-feminist, anti-secularist religious activists have heeded the call. “A chief example of this,” Joyce has written, “is ‘The Natural Family Manifesto’ … [an] ecumenical call to arms [that] extols a conservative lifestyle where fathers lead and women honor their highest domestic calling by becoming ‘prolific mothers’ of ‘full quivers of children.’”
The unanswered question here is how much Romney adheres to his church’s teachings, and whether he agrees with the relationships some Mormons have forged with conservative Catholics and evangelicals on matters relating to the family, gender and sexuality. So far he’s jumped on the most obvious bandwagons of religious right causes. But as the campaign drags on, both progressives and conservatives will no doubt want to know more about where his own faith fits in the hot-button debates his party has placed front and center in the campaign.
A Gingrich aide is fired for an ugly remark that may also help explain the candidate's sudden lead over his rivalNewt Gingrich, whose presidential candidacy lived without a real campaign organization for much of 2011, is now scrambling to build a team worthy of his surging poll numbers. Which helps explain how something like this can happen:
Less than a week after being tapped as Newt Gingrich’s political director in Iowa, Craig Bergman resigned on Tuesday for suggesting evangelicals are ready to help God “expose the cult of Mormon.”On the surface, this is simply an embarrassment for Gingrich, who is loudly pledging to run an exclusively positive campaign. But as I wrote yesterday, when you look at Romney’s struggles — particularly in the South and other areas where fundamentalist Christians hold disproportionate sway — it’s fair to wonder how prevalent Bergman’s attitude is among the Republican electorate.
After all, we’ve seen a steady stream of comments like his. Just a few months ago, Robert Jeffress, a conservative Christian leader from Texas, called the idea that Mormonism is a cult “is a mainstream view” among born-again Christians. “Every true, born again follower of Christ ought to embrace a Christian over a non-Christian,” he said. Or think back to four years ago, when Mike Huckabee said to a New York Times Magazine reporter, “Don’t Mormons believe that Jesus and the devil are brothers?” Like Gingrich now, Huckabee was surging in Iowa at the time, and while his remarks caused an uproar, they hardly hurt him in the first-in-the-nation caucuses, which he won over Romney by nine points.
When Jeffress made his “cult” comment, he also made it clear that he still thinks Romney is a good and moral man, and that he’d vote for him over Obama. But in a Republican race, he’d rather vote for a fellow Christian than a Mormon, he said. How common this view is among Republican voters is hard to say, but it’s worth noting that Romney, even as he has struggled to crack 25 percent in polls this year, still retains strong personal favorable ratings with Republican voters. They like him, but most of them just aren’t willing to back him, at least not yet.
In 2008, 44 percent of all Republican primary voters identified themselves as evangelical Christians. The concentration was even larger (60 percent) in the key early states of Iowa and South Carolina, where Romney finished with 25 percent and 15 percent respectively. By contrast, he fared better in New Hampshire (23 percent fundamentalist Christian) and Michigan (39 percent). In that campaign, don’t forget, Romney even gave a speech that addressed his religion head-on, and that seemed mainly designed to convince fundamentalist Christians to see him as one of their own.
The influence of Christian conservatives on GOP politics has hardly diminished these past four years. So while the comments of Gingrich’s now-ex-aide may have been ugly and over-the-top, they may also have unwittingly revealed an important source of Gingrich’s sudden leads over Romney in Iowa and South Carolina and across the South.
Did Joseph Smith believe himself?God’s authority was not absolute in [Joseph] Smith’s time. Much is made of the revivals in the early 1800s, public displays of religiosity, and the proliferation of new cults, sects, and prophets. But these might also have expressed anxiety about religion. Not only were many of the revival conversions rescinded, but those that stuck were not necessarily the beginning of a generous new life. Joseph was deeply bothered by the petty partisanship he often noticed between converts and their preachers. As he wrote in The History of the Church, “Yet when the converts began to file off, some to one party and some to another, it was seen that the seemingly good feelings of both the priests and the converts were more pretended than real; for a scene of great confusion and bad feeling ensued; priest contending against priest, and convert against convert; so that all their good feelings one for another, if they ever had any, were entirely lost in a strife of words and a contest about opinions.”
As the nineteenth century progressed, God’s shifting place was reflected in the arts. Painters who’d been trained in Christian iconography like Goya said, “There are no rules,” and didactic traditions about how the Christian story should be told began to be challenged. Joseph seems sensitive to this, or if not sensitive in an educated way to the Enlightenment and its consequences, he seems to intuit how being Christian was fraught in new ways. Religion was losing its dignity. Science was coming on.
Joseph’s first great trauma at eight was a showdown between the two. His whole family had fallen ill with typhoid during the early months of 1812. His older sister, Sophronia, almost died. Joseph seemed to recover, but after several weeks, he developed painful infections, first in his armpit and then in his shinbone. Doctors wanted to amputate, but Lucy fought it. The surgeons explained the only alternative was risky surgery, which might result in Joseph’s death. Lucy’s determination held steady.
When the surgeon arrived on the morning of the operation, Joseph climbed into his father’s lap on the bed. His swollen leg was propped up by folded sheets. The doctor was going to cut out the infected bone in three sections. He would do this first by boring through Joseph’s shin from one side and then the other. Everyone understood the operation would be excruciatingly painful: there was no anesthetic. But there wasn’t any prayer, either. Joseph was offered brandy first, wine second, and restraining ropes third. Yet he was part of a household that prayed regularly and where the parents had just tearfully petitioned God on their knees to save Sophronia, their young daughter, in the darkest hour of her typhoid fever. Sophronia lived. Before Joseph’s operation, God did not come into the conversation until after the boy had rejected alcohol and restraints and urged his mother to leave the room because his suffering would be too much for her. Finally the boy said as the last thing he could think of, “The Lord will help me, and I shall get through with it.” That brandy should be offered under the circumstances before God was only realistic. But that realism spoke volumes. The Smiths knew they lived in a world where medications could reach physical pain that God could not.
Joseph was born after the Enlightenment. He was born after the American Revolution, which guaranteed religious freedom. It was the first time the state and the Christian religion had been set apart since Constantine the Great had made Christianity the established religion of the Roman Empire. Joseph was familiar with family members who’d turned their backs on evangelic religion. Once, when Lucy started attending Methodist services, her father-in-law threw Thomas Paine’s Age of Reason through the doorway of the Smiths’ home. Jesse Smith, an uncle on Joseph’s father’s side, was an outspoken critic of conversion. He dismissed his young relative’s prophetic revelations from the start. When Joseph confided his vision of God and Jesus in the grove to a Methodist minister — who had taken part in the wildly expressive revivals around Palmyra — the man said such visions had “ended with the Apostles.” ...
Reprinted from Falling in Love with Joseph Smith: My Search for the Real Prophet by Jane Barnes with the permission of Tarcher/Penguin, a member of Penguin Group USA. Copyright 2012 by Jane Barnes.
Pundits still haven't figured out how to talk about Romney's Mormon religion. Here's everything you need to know“The precipitous mountain pass that led the [Mormon] pioneers down into the Salt Lake Valley and still is the route of access from the east on Interstate 80, was first explored by my great-grandfather, Parley P. Pratt,” Mitt Romney cheerfully writes in “Turnaround,” the airport bookstore leadership manual he wrote in 2004 while governor of Massachusetts.
“He had worked a road up along ‘Big Canyon Creek’ as an act of speculation when his crop failed in the summer of 1849. He charged tolls to prospectors making their way to California at the height of the Gold Rush and even had a Pony Express station commissioned along his pass.”
Romney doesn’t add — and why should he? — that Pratt was murdered in 1857, by the husband of a woman he took as one of his “plural wives.” (His ninth.) Pratt was in San Francisco proselytizing and promoting polygamy. The woman converted and eloped with Pratt, then pretended to renounce Mormonism in order to get her children from her parents, where her estranged husband had sent them. The husband tracked Pratt from California to Arkansas, and shot him dead when it became clear that he could not have Pratt jailed. This incident contributed to the general sense of apocalyptic paranoia among the Mormon community that led to the Mountain Meadows Massacre, in which Mormon settlers — acting, according to some, on orders from Brigham Young — killed an entire wagon train of families on their way to California. There were rumors, before the Mormon militia attacked the wagon train, that Pratt’s killer was among the mostly wealthy Arkansans in the train. The Mormons attempted to blame the murder of children and women on Indians, though Mark Twain and others believed that the “Indians” were likely Mormons in war paint. (Archaeological evidence — dug up, embarrassingly, during preparations for the Salt Lake City Winter Olympics — supports that theory.)
The massacre is the bloodiest and most disturbing moment in Mormon Church history, and also one of the rare moments in the 19th century when the Mormons were the perpetrators and not the victims of violence. Having been kicked out of everywhere they set up camp until they settled at their arid dead sea in Utah, they’ve retained the persecution complex, and some Mormons have a tendency to compare themselves to the Jews — members of the church even refer to non-Mormons as “Gentiles.” (“I understood a little better what my Jewish friends encounter,” Romney writes in “Turnaround,” after receiving anti-Mormon hate mail.)
Polygamy is the reason George Romney was born in Mexico. The Romneys had been Mormons since way back. Carpenter Miles Archibald Romney, along with his family, converted in 1837, after hearing the story of Joseph Smith finding those golden plates in upstate New York. The Romneys moved to Smith’s Mormon community in Nauvoo, Ill., in 1841, and had Miles Park Romney in 1843. Miles Park became a builder, moved to Utah, married one woman, did mission work in England, returned to Utah and married another woman on orders from Brigham Young himself. He became quite prominent in the Mormon community, building Brigham Young’s gigantic home and helping to defeat a congressional anti-polygamy law. Romney and his three wives and various children were then sent to settle St. Johns, Ariz., as part of the church leadership’s plan to settle across the entire American West. St. Johns was not particularly welcoming to the Mormon newcomers, and after various threats to hang the lot of them, the Romney clan was told — ordered, actually — to try Mexico instead.
So they created a new Mormon colony, Colonia Juarez, and after some hardship, did reasonably well for themselves. Miles even took another wife seven years after the church officially “banned” the practice of plural marriage. Gaskell Romney, Miles Romney’s son with his first wife, Hannah Hood Hill, became a builder as well, and married one woman: Anna Amelia Pratt, granddaughter of Parley. They gave birth to George a few years before the Mexican Revolution forced the whole colony back to the United States.
Romney presents a fairly sanitized version of his family’s history in his book, quoting from a glowing biography of Miles Park Romney written by his son Thomas and not mentioning what actually brought the Romney clan to Mexico, but he is frank about the church’s history when asked about it. His great-grandmother wrote extensively about how miserable her husband’s additional wives made her. “It was the great trial of the early Mormon pioneers,” Mitt told Lawrence Wright in 2002. But the church still grapples with the origins of polygamy, which became a tenet of the religion without much in the way of explanation. Wright:
Although Romney, like other Mormons, defends the practice of polygamy in the early days of the Church by pointing to a surplus of women in Utah, census reports for the time show roughly equal numbers of men and women. Church leaders were told to take multiple wives and “live the principle.” In religions where polygamy is still practiced — for example, in Islam — the number of wives is usually a reflection of the husband’s wealth; the currency behind Mormon polygamy, however, seems to have been spiritual. Only men are given the priesthood power of salvation, and through them women gain access to the celestial kingdom. Faithful women were naturally drawn to men who they believed could guarantee eternal life; in fact, Brigham Young authorized women to leave their husbands if they could find a man “with higher power and authority” than their present husband. Apparently, many of them did, as shown by the rate of divorce at the time.Women, by the way, are still spiritually second-class citizens in Mormonism, though the same is arguably true in most other Western religions, so maybe we shouldn’t harp on them too much.
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The Mormonism of the 19th century bears little resemblance to Mitt Romney’s Mormonism. Mitt Romney’s Mormonism is the impossibly cheery “Donny and Marie” variety, not the armed apocalyptic homesteading cult member variety. Tolstoy — referring to the scrappy/crazy 19th century version — called Mormonism “the American religion,” and he decidedly did not mean that as a compliment. But the modern church still deserves the title. It’s the Coca-Cola religion, with a brand that denotes a sort of upbeat corporate Americanness, considered cheesy by elites but undeniably popular in pockets of the heartland and abroad.
It is an admirable transformation, frankly, for a religion founded very recently by a man who was likely both a liar and a lunatic, then led to prominence by a megalomaniac. Despite its transparently ridiculous dogma and sordid history of racism and murder and extremely unorthodox marital practices, Mormonism has come to thrive, thanks primarily to its ability to market and rapidly reinvent itself.
If the doctrine itself is a problem, stick around for a while and wait for it to change. If you think it unlikely, for example, that multiple advanced civilizations, descended from Israelite tribes, thrived and warred for hundreds of years in pre-Columbian upstate New York without leaving any archaeological evidence behind, the church now cheerfully entertains the possibility that the hill where Smith “found” his golden plates is one of two named “Cumorah,” with the other one — the one repeatedly referenced in the Book of Mormon — likely standing somewhere in Central America.
The racism underpinning the whole of the original Book of Mormon, which tells the story of a virtuous light-skinned tribe warring with an evil dark-skinned tribe (the “sons of Ham,” cursed with dark skin for eternity by God for their wickedness), was wiped away by decree in 1978. Significant changes to the hallowed “temple endowment” ceremony in 1990 got rid of the bit where women had to promise to be subservient to husbands. Even the “Temple Garments” (yes, the magic underpants) have gradually become easier and easier to conceal under “normal” clothes.
The modern Mormon aesthetic is deeply indebted to Walt Disney, but somehow even more square. Their grand temples look like variations on Cinderella’s castle. Their religious music sounds like Oscar‐nominated Alan Menken-penned hymns. Their annual pageants — I highly recommend attending the Hill Cumorah pageant in upstate New York, in which formative stories from the Book of Mormon are acted out for an audience of thousands just beside the actual hill where Smith found the plates — are spectacular, involving massive casts and lavish costumes and thrilling theatrical effects, paired with the cheesiest imaginable dialogue and storytelling, like a vintage Disneyland animatronic “Ben-Hur.” (The sound system was easily the best I’ve ever heard at a large outdoor performance. Each line of risible King James pastiche narration was crystal clear from a hundred yards out.)
It’s very easy to make fun of a religion that literally takes communion in the form of Wonder bread, but the appeal of all that mandated clean-cut decency is also pretty easy to figure out. It pairs well, for example, with motivational business leadership books. In France, church leaders encouraged a young Mitt Romney to study “Think and Grow Rich,” the landmark self-help book written in 1937 by motivational guru Napoleon Hill. Romney had his fellow missionaries read it, and told them to apply the lessons to their mission work.
There’s 30 minutes’ worth of Napoleon Hill babbling his claptrap on YouTube, and it’s well worth a look. Hill, enunciating in that classic “born before recorded sound was a thing” way, promises viewers a “master key” to anything their heart desires. Anything at all, so long as it can be written down on a piece of paper. Hill will show you the master key, he explains, when you are ready to understand it. “The master key consists of 17 principles, the first of which is definiteness of purpose,” and so on. (Hill never actually reveals his foolproof formula for personal success, because he prefers that the reader discover it for him- or herself.)
The book remains a bestseller, regularly reprinted. Using its lessons, millions of people have been told, anything the mind can conceive of can be achieved by a man. All you have to do is want it very badly. There was even a 1980s infomercial for the audiobook version, hosted by quarterback legend Fran Tarkenton, who made it to three Super Bowls (and lost each one).
This sort of “think yourself rich” bullshit, with its promise of a foolproof path to success made up of basic lessons in persistence and confidence combined with pseudo-scientific hokum, is a great philosophical fit with Mormonism, which teaches that men are on a spiritual progression toward Godhood. And the fantastic thing about Mormonism is that you can apply the early 20th century version of “The Secret” — want something very, very badly and you will make it real with thought powers! — toward the amassing of material riches both here on Earth and after death, because Mormon doctrine says the believer will continue working and procreating in the afterlife. That may sound tedious and frankly hellish to you and me (though you do eventually get your own planet!), but this exaggerated re-conception of the Protestant work ethic is an essential tenet of Mormon culture and dogma. It helps that Mormonism is decidedly less squicky about rich people than traditional Christianity. (Again, Tolstoy really nailed it with that “American religion” thing.)
Stephen “Seven Habits of Highly Effective People” Covey is a Mormon. So are past and present Harvard Business School deans Kim Clark and Clayton Christensen, the CEOs of Dell and JetBlue, and NBA executive Dave Checketts. Mitt Romney himself was named for J. Willard Marriott, founder of the Marriott hotel empire and a close friend of George Romney. (Something Mormon-connected brands tend to have in common is that they are fairly dull.)
Romney clearly internalized Napoleon Hill’s lessons: His “Turnaround” is full of of Hillisms translated through business school and management seminars. He reprints the list of “Guiding Principles” he placed on each Salt Lake City Olympics Organizing Committee employee’s desk, as if being explicitly told to “Seek ‘Gold Medal’ performances in your own job” and “Don’t sweat the small stuff” is what really turned those Olympics around following the bid scandal.
That’s “what kind of Mormon” Mitt Romney is: the Chamber of Commerce/Fortune 500 kind, making a fortune but not too ostentatious about it, and always starting a meeting with a joke.
He’s by no means a fundamentalist, and as a non-Utah Mormon, he comes from a less insular and conservative environment than many of those raised in the church’s stronghold. But young Mitt Romney, who admits to craving caffeinated sodas as a child, was sent to France during great political and cultural upheaval, and he was repulsed by student demonstrations and mass unrest. His response was to become much more Mormon — much more respectful of order and authority, much more “gosh” and “gee willikers.” More Brigham Young than Stanford.
His time at Brigham Young was Romney’s first experience living in Utah, which Mormons run as a sort of soft theocracy. Salt Lake City has a slim non-Mormon majority, but the power rests in the heavily Mormon state government. Public schools feature Mormon seminaries, usually connected or across the street, and they give an hour a day to (wink-wink) “released time.” (They also ban school events on Monday nights, which is church-mandated family time.) Salt Lake City has faced ACLU lawsuits for selling public areas to the church, which then restricts speech in the areas. Non-Mormons can face soft employment and housing discrimination, and what they do with their free time is … heavily restricted by the state.
Even after Gov. Jon Huntsman significantly relaxed the liquor laws in 2009, the regulations remain restrictive (last June, the state banned drink specials) and often bizarre. The New York Times reported on the current cumbersome state of Utah’s liquor laws in the summer of 2011. In restaurants, patrons can’t get drinks without ordering food, and all alcohol — liquor, beer or wine — must be hidden from view. You’re no longer limited to nothing but 3.2 percent beer, but getting a cocktail can be complex:
Stiff drinks and doubles are illegal in Utah. Bars and restaurants must use meters on their liquor bottles to make sure they do not pour more than 1.5 ounces at a time. Other liquors can be added to cocktails in lesser amounts, not to exceed 2.5 ounces of liquor in a drink, as long as they are poured from bottles clearly marked “flavoring.”Romney writes in “Turnaround” of being unprepared for a heated local debate over alcohol sales at his Salt Lake Olympics. It takes a secular newspaperman to explain to him that alcohol debates in Utah are actually about the frustrations of liberal religious minorities living under conservative religious rule, and Romney still doesn’t entirely get it:
It is illegal to stiffen a drink with a second shot: under the law a drinker can order a vodka and tonic with a shot of whiskey on the side, but not a vodka tonic with a shot of vodka on the side.
“[My church's] opposition to liberal alcohol laws, however, had nothing to do with a desire to impose the religion on others. In fact, the Church’s members abstain from coffee and tobacco, as well as alcohol and the Church actually serves coffee in the hotel it owns … No, their issue with liberalizing alcohol regulations derives from the same social consequences recognized in other nations and communities: concern about drunk driving and alcoholism.”
That’s the church’s line, almost to the letter, and Romney’s endorsement of it I’m sure means that he has a similarly tolerant understanding of Saudi Arabian laws banning women drivers. (It’s a public safety thing! They’re such bad drivers!)
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Unlike a lot of other Mormons in the 1960s and 1970s, Romney never challenged his church on its positions on its racist doctrines, which essentially banned blacks from membership in the church.
From David Kirkpatrick, in the Times:
“I hoped that the time would come when the leaders of the church would receive the inspiration to change the policy,” Mr. Romney said. When he heard over a car radio in 1978 that the church would offer blacks full membership, he said, he pulled over and cried.Of course, Romney doesn’t always hew to the church line. Mitt broke with his church’s teachings and the position of most of his fellow Mormons when he … decided to oppose stem cell research in order to position himself for a Republican presidential run back when that was the most pressing national issue for religious conservatives.
But until then, he deferred to church leaders, he said. “The way things are achieved in my church, as I believe in other great faiths, is through inspiration from God and not through protests and letters to the editor.”
The church is generally pro–stem cell research — it believes that the “soul” enters the body some time after conception, and that no souls are involved in the cultivation of embryos in a lab. Romney was initially strongly pro–stem cell research, purposefully staking out a position to the left of President Bush while running for governor of Massachusetts. But according to Romney in 2007, a 2004 conversation with a stem cell researcher led him to change his position on the research and even on abortion. This Romney says the scientist told him that he “kills” embryos after 14 days (the scientist in question obviously disputes using the word “kill”) and that so horrified Romney (“it hit me very hard that we had so cheapened the value of human life in a Roe v. Wade environment”) that he moved to criminalize research he’d strongly supported two years earlier, and vetoed a bill allowing for research on human eggs.
“I applaud medical discovery and the pursuit of cures for debilitating diseases,” Romney writes in the 2007 prologue to the paperback edition of his 2004 book on turning around the Olympics, “but I saw clearly where this legislation would take the nation: to the ‘brave new world’ that Aldous Huxley warned about, with rows upon rows of test tubes containing human embryos grown and harvested for science.”
The bill passed despite his veto, and now Massachusetts is a dystopian drug-addled nightmare state keeping its populace cowed with the superficial satisfactions of sex and consumption.
Mitt Romney doesn't have to answer for every Mormon belief. But his own role deserves scrutiny -- and answersAs a reporter who writes about political figures’ religion, I get asked this question a lot: How much of Mitt Romney’s Mormonism is fair game?
I usually start with Article VI of the Constitution: “no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States.” His Mormonism, or any candidate’s religion or non-religion, should not be a qualifier, or a disqualifier. But the reality is that voters make judgments, some based on long-standing prejudices, some based on gut reactions, and some based on thinking a religious belief (planets, underwear, tribes of Israel roaming America) is “weird.” Or they listen to a Baptist minister who says Mormonism is a “cult.” Or not Christian. (Even if it’s not, should that matter?) Or theologically “dangerous.”
There’s a difference, though, between probing a candidate’s religious beliefs, and probing a candidate’s involvement in promoting or even acquiescing to the activities of a powerful religious institution. Should reporters ask Romney about his underwear, sacred garments that signify a Mormon’s covenant with God, and which devout Mormons believe protect them from evil? No, but a reporter can ask a Mormon scholar to explain this practice, like you might ask a Jewish studies professor to explain a yarmulke to the uninitiated. (Actually, on questions of Mormon culture, I’d recommend anything written by my colleague Joanna Brooks, who is quite frankly weary of the underwear question.)
According to a recent article in the Washington Post, when Romney was selected as bishop in 1981, the activities of the Boston-area feminists were under intense scrutiny and pressure by the all-male LDS hierarchy in Salt Lake City. A group of Mormon women in Boston published a journal, Exponent II, named after an early 20th century newspaper of Mormon suffragists. Romney was installed as bishop to quiet what former Exponent II president Barbara Tayl0r said Romney believed were “just a bunch of bored, unhappy housewives trying to stir up trouble.”
While his harsh counseling of a pregnant woman facing a medical complication that she shouldn’t have an abortion is probably the best-known incident from this period, there were other issues. A 2008 piece by Salt Lake Tribune writer Peggy Fletcher Stack described the Boston women’s discontent with Romney’s refusal, initially, to recognize that there was domestic abuse of women within the church, and his general willingness to carry out the hierarchy’s orthodoxy, although the church’s structure obviously leaves little or no room for rebellion.
Taylor and others in the Boston community nonetheless described a tiny evolution by Romney to at least recognize some of their objections, even as real structural change is impossible in the face of the church’s non-democratic structure. But Romney has never discussed how he dealt with these issues as bishop or later as president of the Boston stake (the larger geographical area that encompasses the wards), and how he, as bishop or as stake president, addressed the women’s protests against the church patriarchy.
The Mormons’ historical racism is another issue Romney doesn’t talk about. The church recently weighed in on this issue, after Brigham Young University professor Randy Bott’s racist remarks sparked a firestorm. Bott said that the church’s ban on African-Americans serving in the priesthood (in place until 1978) was actually a “blessing” because blacks were not ready for the priesthood. The church quickly repudiated Bott’s remarks, saying, in a statement, that his views “absolutely do not represent the teachings and doctrines of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints” and “We condemn racism, including any and all past racism by individuals both inside and outside the Church.” Given that Romney served as a missionary before the ban was officially lifted (in the late 1960s) and attended BYU in the late 1960s and early 1970s, it’s not beyond the pale to probe his thoughts on this issue, particularly because Mormons across the country are talking about it.
It’s not a gotcha question. Romney could go a long way toward humanizing the Romney-bot if he could explain whether he ever contested the LDS ban, in place until 1978, on African-Americans serving in the priesthood, and whether, if true, the ban caused him qualms.
Because of the unique structure of the LDS church, in which lay people (as Romney has) serve as clergy, and because of Romney’s generous financial support of his church, these are not questions aimed at showing that his theological beliefs are “weird.”
Well-reported articles about candidates’ religious beliefs are essential, not only because of what they tell us about prospective presidents, but because they help explain the variety of religious practice and belief in our country, and its role in political power. A recent New York Times article shed light on Rick Santorum’s evolution from “nominal Catholic” to ultramontanism, and his attendance at a Northern Virginia parish with Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia and other Washington “luminaries.”
Santorum didn’t respond to the reporters’ inquiries about his beliefs, or his sons’ attending a school affiliated with Opus Dei, a Catholic organization that Father James Martin, writing in the Jesuit magazine America in 1995, described as “the most controversial group in the Catholic Church today.” Opus Dei critics, who say the organization is “more Roman than Rome,” charge it engages in coercive practices to recruit new adherents, particularly on college campuses. “I call them the Catholic Mormons,” then-Newsweek reporter Kenneth Woodward told Martin, referring to the proselytizing practices of Mormons. There’s a nugget to provoke discussion from now until the Tampa, Fla., convention.
Of course, the boundary between belief and institutions is sometimes blurred because the two overlap. Religious beliefs and rituals are complex, but it is possible to draw lines between unfair efforts to highlight the “weirdness” of certain religious practices or rituals and legitimate lines of inquiry that seek to illuminate how institutional teachings or practices shape a candidate’s politics. For example, in 2008, I argued that any injection of religion into the campaign by Sarah Palin was fair game, in terms of how her views of the end-times, for example, would influence her foreign policy. But I also felt that questions about whether she speaks in tongues while at church should be off-limits.
Imagine a Muslim candidate for president being quizzed about every verse in the Quran, asked to rebut anti-Muslim tropes, or required to rebuke every nutty thing any Muslim anywhere in the world has said (or said in the fevered imagination of someone like Pamela Geller). One can’t be held to account for all other co-religionists. As the blogger Jewdar wrote at Heeb magazine, about the controversy over Mormon posthumous baptism, which the LDS church has promised, officially speaking, to end: “We strongly object to the notion that Mitt Romney needs to say anything on the subject. Romney is a Mormon; some other Mormons did something which some people think is wrong. At what point does a member of a particular religious community–even a prominent member–need to respond to every misdeed on the part of another member of that group?”
In my perfect world, presidential candidates wouldn’t talk about their religion. They would practice it freely, but they would neither use it to prop up their candidacy nor use their opponents’ (real or fabricated) religion to bring them down. Lawmakers wouldn’t use religion to justify policy positions. And while I have no doubt that plenty of liberals are suspicious of Mormonism — either because of Proposition 8, the racism, the patriarchy, the extra-biblical revelations in upstate New York, the secrecy of the hierarchy, posthumous baptisms or from reading “Under the Banner of Heaven” or watching “Big Love” — it’s Romney’s own party that has imposed religious litmus tests on candidates.
Romney, his awkward body language tells us, would much rather not talk about his religion. He knows that half his party thinks he’s not a real Christian, or worse, belongs to a cult. (Recall that for general election purposes, these voters probably don’t think President Obama is a real Christian either.) But Romney’s running for the nomination of the party that demands its candidates testify to their salvation through Jesus and loyalty to the “Christian nation.”
Considering that Romney’s religion was founded decades after the “Christian nation,” you could see how he would have to tie himself in a knot to comply with his own party’s orthodoxy. Which is why, if he limps to the nomination, no amount of explaining will satisfy the GOP’s religious base. Fifty years from now, there won’t be a Romney religion speech to make a future candidate throw up, but the electorate will probably be more used to having Mormons around.
Joseph Smith would be horrified by the religion's present-day materialism -- and uber-capitalist candidate“You are cursed because of your riches!”
It was a bummer message that nobody wanted to hear. Samuel the Lamanite stood alone atop the great wall of the city of Zarahemla to warn the inhabitants of their pending destruction.
Now you have probably never heard of this Samuel, nor the capital city that was once the center of the Nephite nation. But Mitt Romney certainly has. In 6 BC, as the story goes, somewhere on the American continent, the inhabitants of this mythic city had grown decadent. There were extreme class divisions. Politicians were corrupt. The government disregarded the sick and poor.
God had called Samuel to essentially Occupy Zarahemla, to stand up and speak out against corporate greed and wealth accumulation. For his trouble, he was promptly thrown out the front gates. Undeterred, he bravely scaled the city’s exterior wall, evading a barrage of arrows and stones to stand defiant. He offered Zarahemla a choice: repent or be destroyed by God. Like any of us who have ever witnessed the ranting of a doomsday prophet, the Nephites couldn’t be bothered. Four hundred years later, Samuel’s prophecy would sorely come to pass. After decades of perpetual wars and extreme environmental upheavals, the inhabitants of Zarahemla were wiped completely off the continent and out of history.
They had been warned.
The rise and fall of the Nephite nation is a cautionary tale included in the Book of Mormon. The book purports to be the history of ancient American people, written by prophets who foresaw the present day and knew that calamity was coming. Joseph Smith reportedly translated the record by “the gift and power of God.” The prophetic message of the scripture is sharp; if Americans are obedient to God, we will be blessed with riches. If Americans set our hearts on riches and ignore the poor, we will be destroyed.
It’s an ontological dilemma facing every millionaire Mormon.
One hundred and eighty-two years after its founding, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is certainly prospering. The Church has diversified into commercial enterprises, owning television and radio stations, universities, farms, banks and, most recently, retail. Last month, the Church opened City Creek Mall, a stunning billion-dollar downtown renovation in Salt Lake City featuring the Utah debut of Tiffany Jewelry, Michael Kors and Porches Design. This ambitious temple of high-end commerce sits adjacent to the iconic LDS Temple where sacred rituals are performed daily by the Mormon faithful.
Young’s egalitarian separatism has long been superseded. The living embodiment of the 21st century saint is now the slick, painfully monogamous, politically malleable super-capitalist Romney who shares “humorous” tales of layoffs and factory closures.
Romney perfected the art of “creative destruction” through leveraged buyouts and junk bond financing that enriched his investors at Bain Capital while at times devastating common workers. His critics from the 99 percent, he argues, are driven by envy.
Ironically, while Romney would prefer to discuss wealth inequality in “quiet rooms,” the topic consumed both Joseph Smith and Brigham Young’s sermons and writings. For a short time in the Book of Mormon, the Nephites abandoned their love of riches and established “Zion” — a classless utopia that “had all things common among them; therefore there were not rich and poor, but they were all made free.”
The Nephite story provided the template for Smith and Young’s social experiments with communalism. They would both try repeatedly to replicate the mythic Zion. Smith repeatedly told his followers, “if you are not equal in earthly things you cannot be equal in obtaining heavenly things.” Young also championed wealth redistribution, “We have plenty here. No person is going to starve, or suffer, if there is an equal distribution of the necessaries of life.”
But like all utopias, the dream is easier than reality.
Facing the existential threat of federal disincorporation, the LDS Church responded by seeking assimilation at any cost. They began to privatize their cooperative business ventures throughout the 1880s and publicly abandoned polygamy in 1890. The course was set. To survive in America, Mormons would transform themselves into patriotic citizens. The quest for Zion would be replaced by the American dream. The rhetoric of communalism exchanged with a reverence for the free market. Romney’s ascendance to the nation’s highest office will affirm to Mormons that their faith is finally authentic – that they are the indisputable Horatio Alger of American religions.
But how would the poor fare under the first Mormon president? By all accounts, not well. Romney has eagerly endorsed Paul Ryan’s budget plan to slash $3.3 trillion from programs that benefit low-income Americans. Furthermore, Romney refuses to consider increased taxes on millionaires or a modest increase on the taxable rates of capital gains. He encourages the wealthy to hoard their riches while the poor continue to struggle. It’s a familiar story he should know. Samuel the Lamanite continues to cry out to Romney in sacred protest, “The day shall come when they shall hide up their treasures, because they have set their hearts upon riches; cursed be they and also their treasures.”
He has been warned.
Isn't that enough? Does anyone really want to know more about Mitt? I don't. But since he believes his underwear is protecting him... let jut call hi group from 2012 the Secret Magic Underwear Team (better than calling them Secret Muslims a that's overplayed).